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Laser Archaeology

February 19, 2018

Airborne lasers are unveiling ancient Central American civilizations.



A laser into the past. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Archaeologists once spent decades exploring remote jungles looking for signs of ancient civilizations. Now, airplanes can spot them in just a few days using LiDAR systems — rapid-fire lasers that map every bump and trough on the earth’s surface. University of Houston engineer Juan Carlos Fernandez-Diaz is mission planner for the National Center for Airborne Laser Mapping.

JUAN CARLOS FERNANDEZ-DIAZ (University of Houston):

With these lasers, we are able to find gaps in the canopy and go all the way to the ground and map the topography.


They can detect roads, farms, and building foundations thousands of years old, even in thick jungle. At the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Fernandez-Diaz said their goal is to map much of Central America and Mexico, to reveal the true vastness these complex, ancient civilizations. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.

Story by Bob Hirshon